Skip to main content

Sustaining ecological and subsistence functions in conservation areas: eider habitat and access by Native hunters along landfast ice


In the Arctic, rapid climate change has kindled efforts to delineate and project the future of important habitats for marine birds and mammals. These animals are vital to subsistence economies and cultures, so including the needs of both animals and hunters in conservation planning is key to sustaining social-ecological systems. In the northeast Chukchi Sea, a nearshore corridor of open water is a major spring migration route for half a million eider ducks that are hunted along the landfast ice. Zoning areas for industrial activities or conservation should consider both eider habitat and hunter access to those habitats from the variable ice edge. Based on benthic sampling in 2010‒2012, a model of eider foraging energetics and satellite data on ice patterns in April and May 1997‒2011, we mapped the range of positions of the landfast ice edge relative to a given dispersion of habitat suitable for eider feeding. In some sectors, feeding areas were too limited or too far from landfast ice to provide regular hunting access. In other sectors, overlap of the ice edge with eider feeding habitat was quite variable, but often within a consistent geographic range. Areas accessible to hunters were a small fraction of total eider habitat, so areas adequate for conserving eiders would not necessarily include areas that meet the hunters’ needs. These results can inform spatial planning of industrial activities that yield cash income critical to subsistence hunting in less developed locations. Our study provides an approach for mapping ‘subsistence conservation areas’ throughout the Arctic and an example for such efforts elsewhere.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence: Dr James R. Lovvorn email:
Hide All

Supplementary material can be found online at

Hide All
Barry, T.W. (1968) Observations on natural mortality and native use of eiders ducks along the Beaufort Sea coast. Canadian Field-Naturalist 82: 141144.
Beatty, W.S., Jay, C.V., Fischbach, A.S., Grebmeier, J.M., Taylor, R.L., Blanchard, A.L. & Jewett, S.C. (2016) Space use of a dominant Artic vertebrate: effects of prey, sea ice, and land on Pacific walrus resource selection. Biological Conservation 203: 532.
Beauparlant, A.M. (2014) Climate change and its impact on the Iñupiat of Point Lay, Alaska: a case study of resilience. M.A. Thesis, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK, USA.
Braund, S.R. & Associates (1993a) North Slope subsistence study, Wainwright, 1988 and 1989. Technical Report Number 147, OCS Study MMS 91-0073. Anchorage, AK, USA: US Minerals Management Service.
Braund, S.R. & Associates (1993b) North Slope subsistence study, Barrow, 1987, 1988 and 1989. Technical Report Number 149, OCS Study MMS 91-0086. Anchorage, AK, USA: US Minerals Management Service.
Brinkman, T.J., Hansen, W.D., Chapin, F.S., Kofinas, G., BurnSilver, S. & Rupp, T.S. (2016) Arctic communities perceive climate impacts on access as a critical challenge to availability of subsistence resources. Climatic Change 139: 413427.
BurnSilver, S., Magdanz, J., Stotts, R., Berman, M. & Kofinas, G. (2016) Are mixed economies persistent or transitional? Evidence using social networks from Arctic Alaska. American Anthropologist 118: 121129.
Byers, T. & Dickson, D.L. (2001) Spring migration and subsistence hunting of king and common eiders at Holman, Northwest Territories, 1996–98. Arctic 54: 122134.
Collings, P., Wenzel, G.W. & Condon, R.G. (1998) Modern food sharing networks and community integration in the central Canadian Arctic. Arctic 51: 301314.
Condon, R.G., Collings, P. & Wenzel, G. (1995) The best part of life: subsistence hunting, ethnicity, and economic adaptation among young Inuit males. Arctic 48: 3146.
Culloch, R.M., Anderwald, P., Brandecker, A., Haberlin, D., McGovern, B., Pinfield, R., Visser, F., et al. (2016) Effect of construction-related activities and vessel traffic on marine mammals. Marine Ecology Progress Series 549: 231242.
Danielson, S.L., Eisner, L., Ladd, C., Mordy, C., Sousa, L. & Weingartner, T.J. (2017) A comparison between late summer 2012 and 2013 water masses, macronutrients, and phytoplankton standing crops in the northern Bering and Chukchi Sea. Deep-Sea Research II 135: 726.
Dickson, D.L. & Smith, P.A. (2013) Habitat used by common and king eiders in spring in the southeast Beaufort Sea and overlap with resource exploration. Journal of Wildlife Management 77: 777790.
Druckenmiller, M.L., Eicken, H., George, J.C. & Brower, L. (2010) Assessing the shorefast ice: Iñupiat whaling trails of Barrow, Alaska. In: SIKU: Knowing Our Ice, eds Aporta, C., Gearheard, S., Laidler, G.J. & Kielsen Holm, L., pp. 203228. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.
Druckenmiller, M.L., Eicken, H., George, J.C. & Brower, L. (2013) Trails to the whale: reflections of change and choice on an Iñupiat icescape at Barrow, Alaska. Polar Geography 36: 529.
Dunton, K.H., Grebmeier, J.M. & Trefry, J.H. (2014) The benthic ecosystem of the northeastern Chukchi Sea: an overview of its unique biogeochemical and biological characteristics. Deep-Sea Research II 102: 18.
Feder, H.M., Foster, N.R., Jewett, S.C., Weingartner, T.J. & Baxter, R. (1994a) Mollusks in the northeastern Chukchi Sea. Arctic 47: 145163.
Feder, H.M., Naidu, A.S., Jewett, S.C., Hameedi, J.M., Johnson, W.R. & Whitledge, T.E. (1994b) The northeastern Chukchi Sea: benthos–environmental interactions. Marine Ecology Progress Series 111: 171190.
Ford, J.D., Smit, B., Wandel, J., Allurut, M., Shappa, K., Ittusarjuat, H. & Qrunnut, K. (2008) Climate change in the Arctic: current and future vulnerability in two Inuit communities in Canada. Geographical Journal 174: 4562.
Fournier, M.A. & Hines, J.E. (1994) Effects of starvation on muscle and organ mass of king eiders Somateria spectabilis and the ecological and management implications. Wildfowl 45: 188197.
Gearheard, S., Matumeak, W., Angutikjuaq, I., Maslanik, J., Huntington, H.P., Leavitt, J., Kagak, D.M. et al. (2006) ‘It's not that simple’: a collaborative comparison of sea ice environments, their uses, observed changes, and adaptations in Barrow, Alaska, USA, and Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. Ambio 35: 203211.
George, J.C., Huntington, H.P., Brewster, K., Eicken, H., Norton, D.W. & Glenn, R. (2004) Observations on shorefast ice dynamics in Arctic Alaska and the responses of the Iñupiat hunting community. Arctic 57: 363374.
Glenn, R., Itta, E. & Napageak, T. (2011) Local perspectives on the future of offshore oil and gas in northern Alaska. In: North by 2020, eds Lovecraft, A. L. & Eicken, H., pp. 605614. Fairbanks, AK, USA: University of Alaska Press.
Grebmeier, J.M., Bluhm, B.A., Cooper, L.W., Danielson, S., Arrigo, K., Blanchard, A.L., Clark, J.T. et al. (2015) Ecosystem characteristics and processes facilitating persistent macrobenthic biomass hotspots and associated benthivory in the Pacific Arctic. Progress in Oceanography 136: 92114.
Haley, S., Chartier, L., Gray, G., Meek, C., Powell, J., Rosenberg, A.A. & Rosenberg, J. (2011) Strengthening institutions for stakeholder involvement and ecosystem-based management in the US Arctic offshore. In: North by 2020, eds Lovecraft, A.L. & Eicken, H., pp. 457476. Fairbanks, AK, USA: University of Alaska Press.
Jay, C.V., Fischbach, A.S. & Kochnev, A.A. (2012) Walrus areas of use in the Chukchi Sea during sparse sea ice cover. Marine Ecology Progress Series 468: 113.
Kendrick, A. (2013) Canadian Inuit sustainable use and management of Arctic species. International Journal of Environmental Studies 70: 414428.
Klein, C.J., Chan, A., Kircher, L., Cundiff, A.J., Gardner, N., Hrovat, Y., Scholz, A. et al. (2008) Striking a balance between biodiversity conservation and socioeconomic viability in the design of marine protected areas. Conservation Biology 22: 691700.
Lovvorn, J.R., Anderson, E.M., Rocha, A.R., Larned, W.W., Grebmeier, J.M., Cooper, L.W., Kolts, J.M. & North, C.A. (2014) Variable wind, pack ice, and prey dispersion affect the long-term adequacy of protected areas for an Arctic sea duck. Ecological Applications 24: 396412.
Lovvorn, J.R., Grebmeier, J.M., Cooper, L.W., Bump, J.K. & Richman, S.E. (2009) Modeling marine protected areas for threatened eiders in a climatically changing Bering Sea. Ecological Applications 19: 15961613.
Lovvorn, J.R., Rocha, A.R., Jewett, S.C., Dasher, D., Oppel, S. & Powell, A.N. (2015) Limits to benthic feeding by eiders in a vital Arctic migration corridor due to localized prey and changing sea ice. Progress in Oceanography 136: 162174.
Lyver, P.O. & Tylianakis, J.M. (2017) Indigenous peoples: conservation paradox. Science 357: 142143.
Mahoney, A.R., Eicken, H., Gaylord, A.G. & Gens, R. (2014) Landfast sea ice extent in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas: the annual cycle and decadal variability. Cold Regions Science and Technology 103: 4156.
Martin, P.D., Douglas, D.C., Obritschkewitsch, T. & Torrence, S. (2015) Distribution and movements of Alaska-breeding Steller's eiders in the nonbreeding period. Condor 117: 341353.
Nelson, R.K. (1981) Harvest of the Sea: Coastal Subsistence in Modern Wainwright. Barrow, AK, USA: North Slope Borough.
Norton, D.W. & Gaylord, A.G. (2004) Drift velocities of ice floes in Alaska's northern Chukchi Sea flaw zone: determinants of success by spring subsistence whalers in 2000 and 2001. Arctic 57: 347362.
Oppel, S., Dickson, D.L. & Powell, A.N. (2009) International importance of the eastern Chukchi Sea as a staging area for migrating king eiders. Polar Biology 32: 775783.
Quakenbush, L.T., Suydam, R.S., Acker, R., Knoche, M. & Citta, J.J. (2009) Migration of King and Common Eiders Past Point Barrow, Alaska, during Summer/Fall 2002 through Spring 2004: Population Trends and Effects of Wind. Final Report, OCS Study MMS 2009–036. Fairbanks, AK, USA: Minerals Management Service.
Reeves, R.R., Ewins, P.J., Agbayani, S., Heide-Jørgensen, M.P., Kovacs, K.M., Lydersen, C., Suydam, R. et al. (2014) Distribution of endemic cetaceans in relation to hydrocarbon development and commercial shipping in a warming Arctic. Marine Policy 44: 375389.
Robards, M.D. & Lovecraft, A.L. (2010) Evaluating comanagement for socio-ecological fit: indigenous priorities and agency mandates for Pacific walrus. Policy Studies Journal 38: 257279.
Sexson, M.G., Pearce, J.M. & Petersen, M.R. (2014) Spatiotemporal Distribution and Migratory Patterns of Spectacled Eiders. BOEM 2014–665. Anchorage, Alaska, USA: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region.
Solovyev, B., Spiridonov, V., Onufrenya, I., Belikov, S., Chernova, N. Dobrynin, D., Gavrilo, M. et al. (2017) Identifying a network of priority areas for conservation in the Arctic seas: practical lessons from Russia. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 27: 3051.
Speer, L. & Loughlin, T.L. (2011) Workshop Report: IUCN/NRDC Workshop to Identify Areas of Ecological and Biological Significance or Vulnerability in the Arctic Marine Environment [www document]. URL
Wang, M. & Overland, J.E. (2015) Projected future duration of the sea-ice-free season in the Alaskan Arctic. Progress in Oceanography 136: 5059.
Wenzel, G.W. (2009) Canadian Inuit subsistence and ecological instability ‒ if the climate changes, must the Inuit? Polar Research 28: 8999.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-conservation
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Lovvorn et al. supplementary material
Appendix S1

 Word (32 KB)
32 KB
Supplementary materials

Lovvorn et al. supplementary material
Figure S1

 Word (1.2 MB)
1.2 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed